Israel, Turkey Reach Understandings on Hamas

Israeli and Turkish negotiators to meet in Rome to seal the reconciliation agreement; Netanyahu travels to the Italian capital to meet with Kerry and announce the deal.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel and Turkey are expected to announce on Sunday that they have reached an agreement to end their six-year old diplomatic crisis. Relations have been strained since May 2010 after nine Turkish citizens were killed during a raid by Israel Navy commandos on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was headed for the Gaza Strip in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the territory.

Haaretz has learned that the declaration expected Sunday was enabled following understandings the sides reached some 10 days ago about Hamas activities in Turkey.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who went on a secret visit to Turkey, agreed with its National Intelligence Organization head Hakan Fidan on the main understandings. Under the agreement, Hamas offices may continue to operate in Turkey for the purpose of diplomatic activity.

A senior Israeli official said Sunday that as part of the reconciliation agreement that is being ironed out with Turkey, the Turkish government has committed that Hamas will not carry out any terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkish territory.

Speaking on Sunday shortly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's departure from Ben-Gurion International Airport for Rome, the official said: "The government of Turkey has committed to enforce this," and added: "It will be an inseparable part of the agreement." The official said he expected the agreement to be finalized Sunday although full details will be released on Monday.

Several minutes before Netanyahu's flight departed, the prime minister spoke with Jacob Nagel, his acting national security adviser, who is in Rome along with Netanyahu's envoy, Joseph Ciechanover, for the current round of talks with Turkey, which began Sunday morning. Nagel briefed the prime minister on the progress in the talks so far.

The senior Israeli official said Israel also raised the issue of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two other Israelis who have gone missing in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. "There is a lot of disinformation regarding the agreement," the official said.

"The main matter in the agreement is providing immunity to Israel Defense Force soldiers from claims filed in the International Court of Justice. The other things in the agreement are connected to relations between ourselves and Turkey. They wanted us to lift the blockade on Gaza, and we rejected that. But we agreed to assist the population in Gaza. Our policy is to differentiate between the population and Hamas. The projects that we have approved deal with matters such as water, electricity and hospitals. In Gaza, there are worrying signs regarding the collapse of infrastructure there. In the end, it will hurt us, so it's in our interest to deal with it, and we would like other countries to assist in the matter."

The senior official added that the reconciliation agreement is between Israel and Turkey. Hamas is not a party to it and no immunity is being provided in it to senior Hamas officials, the official said. Following the war between Israel and Gaza in the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued an order that Israel provide no medical or humanitarian aid to Hamas members and their families, the official noted, and the order has been carried out in full.

In the period since the understandings about Hamas were reached, senior Turkish official have reiterated that their relations with the Palestinian terror organization would not impede a reconciliation agreement with Israel. Over the weekend, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Ankara and met Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Jerusalem officials believe Meshal was invited to Turkey to send the message that the agreement with Israel is not at the expense of Ankara's relations with Hamas.

The Turkish team in the Rome talks includes Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, who conducted the negotiations with Israel in recent years. The Israeli team is headed by Ciechanover and Nagel.

The meeting is intended to go over the draft agreement one final time. Although the deal is expected to be announced at the end of the meeting, Jerusalem officials lowered expectations on Saturday. "Until we see the final draft, we won't know if there's an agreement," a senior official said.

Even if the sides make an announcement on the agreement on Sunday, the official signing will only take place in a week or two. On Wednesday this week, the agreement will be brought to the security cabinet, where it is expected to be approved, perhaps even unanimously.

Under the agreement, Israel will deposit some $20 million in a humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of the Turks who were killed and injured in the raid on the Mavi Marmara. Turkey has waived its demand for the removal of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. As part of the agreement, Israel will enable Turkey to set up infrastructure projects in Gaza, including the construction of a hospital, a power station and a desalination facility. All the materials for these projects transported via Israel's Ashdod Port.

Turkey will pass a law barring claims against Israeli soldiers and officers and preventing future claims from being filed. The agreement also includes normalizing the diplomatic relations between the two countries and returning the ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv.

While in Rome, Netanyahu will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. If the agreement with Turkey is finalized, Netanyahu plans to hold a news conference in the evening to announce the agreement. After that, Netanyahu is due to meet Kerry for dinner mainly to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The two are to meet again on Monday morning.

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